As the departure of bullpen ace Jonathan Papelbon leaves a glaring hole in an already-unstable bullpen, the Red Sox will now need to find an impact arm or two to fill his absence.
There are some direct way to go about doing this, such as offer a large contract to a notable MLB closer such as Ryan Madson (the guy who Papelbon is replacing in Philadelphia). However, as we’ve seen with Papelbon’s new contract, pitchers with an established reputation as a closer will demand top dollar in this free-agent market. Let’s face it, teams aren’t just paying for the numbers, they are paying for the “bulldog mentality” or whatever intangibles are supposedly inherent in a guy who can finish close baseball games on a nightly basis. The magnitude of impact that these intangibles have on performance (assuming they even exist) is quite debatable, which leads me to believe that this may be an area where a more savvy GM can save a bit of coin without sacrificing too much in terms of actual talent.
I’ve always been a strong supporter of two types of moves:
- Acquiring a middle reliever with good peripheral numbers but little/no closer experience.
- Attempting to convert an inconsistent starting pitcher with good “stuff” into a reliever.
Considering this barrier, the type of pitcher we are looking for is a guy who isn’t a hot commodity in the starter market. A back-end starter, someone who isn’t heading for a $12 million a year deal anytime soon. Someone who is probably close to or over the age of 30, since teams are generally loath to give up on young pitchers with upside. Someone who has had potential, a plus pitch or two, decent peripheral numbers, but has struggled for some reason. (Ideally, the reason isn’t “inability to throw strikes”, as this would make the pitcher an unattractive option for high-leverage situations).
- Availability: a free agent or someone who might be deemed expendable\
- Inconsistency as a starter: while it would be nice to hire Roy Oswalt as your closer, it’s not going to happen.
- Decent K rate: someone who strikes guys out will have more success than someone who doesn’t, all else being equal
- Decent GB%: if you don’t get a strikeout, a routine ground ball is the next best thing
- Good stuff: fastball velocity, accuracy/effectiveness of breaking pitches. Year-to-year trends are important here
- Early-inning success: a starter who comes out of the gate strong might be better suited to one-inning appearances
- ERA – FIP: While ERA is sort of the industry-wide accepted barometer for pitching success, FIP is actually a better indicator. Someone with a high ERA but a lower FIP is typically going to be undervalued by the market
I will update this later on with some ideas.